Saturday, January 31, 2015

Snow!

At long last, we are going to have a true snowstorm. The latest forecasts call for six to nine inches, falling from later Saturday night through early Monday morning.

The only down side to this is that it is happening on a weekend; it will be mostly cleaned up enough to make it to work on Monday.

Boo, no snow day.

There is plenty of food in the house, though I may join the throngs at the grocery store later today just to get something sweet to bake for breakfast tomorrow (I've already checked that there is adequate coffee in the house, along with lots of hot chocolate). Watching people freak out over milk and toilet paper supplies (I have plenty of both) and clearing out the beer displays amuses me to no end. The likelihood of anyone in the Milwaukee metro area being "snowed in" for more than twenty-four hours is slim, but the instinct to stockpile is part of our ancestral history.

At the moment (8 a.m.), the sun is shining brightly. Clouds don't start to move in until late afternoon.

The local meteorologists smile ever-so-slightly as they talk about snow totals and high winds. Jealousy ran high during the east coast storm last week. While a mild forecast is great for those of us who need to go about our usual business, it's a bit boring for the weather people.

In truth, the storm won't derail any of my plans. Cleaning, organizing and sewing were the plans for tonight and tomorrow, all indoor activities which will keep me out of the storm. But there is a strong pull to light a fire, make some hot chocolate, curl up and read all day, watching the storm while snug inside.

May as well enjoy it. After the storm passes, the temperature falls, with highs only in the teens through the week.

Finally, winter arrives in Wisconsin.

Heh, wonder what the groundhog is going to say on Tuesday?

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Taxing situation

A couple of weeks ago (actually, New Year's Day, I think) I went through and entered all the information needed for my tax returns into a (usually) very reliable program. My taxes are fairly simple, and it's easy enough for me to figure out what my W-2 will look like, based on my final remittance advice (our 12/31 pay was issued 12/23 because the university is closed that following week - it makes for a very, very long run until the 1/31 pay date).

Everything else was easy enough to get from my records. As soon as the official W-2 was released, I could check everything and hit "submit". That happened last Saturday.

Sort of.

The program sent the federal, all right, but refused to send the state return, making some claim about a schedule not being available until Monday, 1/26. It made no sense - the schedule was completed and included in the file of the returns I saved to my computer before I sent the federal.

Still, I waited until Monday.

On Monday, the same message appeared, with a new, updated date - the schedule was now supposed to be available on Thursday, 1/29.

Checked the State of Wisconsin website. You can download a paper copy of the form. The state's own e-file system is open, as is their capacity to accept returns through other packages.

Called the software company. Two calls and over an hour and a half later, the message I got was that they would not have the form available until Thursday, but if I really, really want, they would refund the fee I paid to file through them and I could file on paper (or redo the taxes on the State's own e-file site).

Hmpf.

I said I'd wait, but let them know I was NOT happy.

This morning, I logged in. The first thing the software said on the state return was that I could not request a direct deposit if I filed the forms on paper, and I should uncheck the box...

?????

I ignored it. At this point, nothing would be lost by trying to get through. In fact, once I clicked through to the next page, it asked how I would like my refund, and let me chose direct deposit. Everything else went as expected, and the return has been filed and accepted by the State.

Jeez, people. If your IT group hasn't yet configured and uploaded necessary forms (this one was Schedule I - the form that converts deductions available on the fed to those available on the state - a pretty standard, necessary and basic form), please put a notice to that effect at the start of the input process, in big, bold letters.

The IRS is done with me, and says they will deposit that refund on February 2nd. Nine days - not bad. The State of Wisconsin is generally quicker; I bet that shows up the same day. Neither is big, by most people's standards, as I hate to give the government more than I have to give them, but I do have plans for the cash.

Technology is great - when it works.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Post birthday rant

January is packed with birthdays of family and friends - including my own. I'm always happy to celebrate, but I've noticed a disturbing trend.

It started with the younger crowd, as trends often do (Facebook started primarily for college students, and is now primarily used by old farts like me). In the last several years, it's spread to people who really should know better. The trend?

Celebrating a birth "week" instead of a birth "day".

Otherwise rational adults are talking with great anticipation and glee of the multiple celebrations planned for their birth week. Parties, dinners, outings - it seems the more, the better. Celebrities are in on the action (Ellen DeGeneres is currently doing her birthday week shows).

While I'm not surprised that this is happening (after all, everything is about me, Me, ME! these days), I am surprised that people don't see the irony. None of us, after all, had much of anything to say about being born. If anyone is to be feted, it should be our mothers, who did the truly hard work, and our fathers, who contributed a vital piece to the process.

For years society has tried to sweep the idea of getting older under the rug. Billions of dollars are spent each year on anti-aging creams, serums and snake oils by people desperate to wipe out any visible signs of the forward march of time. Cosmetic surgery practices are booming. People die in the pursuit of younger looking faces and bodies.

Yet these same people see no issue with spending a week celebrating the turn of the calendar on another year of life?

As I said, it makes no sense.

Now that I'm yet another year older, I'm embracing my inner curmudgeon. If I see you near your birthday, I will happily congratulate you. If, however, you make any reference to your "birthday week", expect a sharp rap from my cane.

Now get off my lawn.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Blog housekeeping and sundry other assorted things

Sigh. Blogger (almost typed "booger", which may be more appropriate) appears to have messed with the the "compose" (wysiwyg) input screen. It now looks more like a word processing document. Not that that is bad, but I find that no matter what you do to format things the way you want to on that page, it always, always ends up off in some way. While writing in the HTML screen isn't as intuitive, I enjoy the confidence of knowing things will look the way I want them to look without a lot of messing about.

I've done a bit of blog housekeeping tonight. If you look up top, I've added a tab for the current year reads. At some point I'll hide the 2014 list's tab; for now, I want to enjoy the feeling of satisfaction I get every time I see it and realize I met my goal. It's the little things that make me happy.

I already have an entry on the 2015 list, and in the spirit of New Year's organization, I've also written the post to go along with it, scheduled to publish on February 1st. I managed, at long last, to figure out how to include a picture of the cover. Yay, me.

About twenty-five percent of the links in my sidebar were dead, whether due to someone ceasing blogging or changing the location of the blog. I've done some weeding there, as well as a little planting. If you aren't there and want to be, let me know.

The link to the daily reading plan is the same plan I'm using for my current year read through. They've updated things a bit; included on the linked page is the option to listen to the passage rather than read it. The narrator is excellent, with a balanced, well paced delivery. One drawback - there is no way to rewind or fast forward. Auditory learning is not my favored way to learn. My mind wanders off much too easily. Reading, on the other hand, forces my mind to stay more focused (I can actually daydream while I'm reading - I don't recommend it if you want to retain any of what you read).

The long weekend is over. I can't say I did much, other than get some extra sleep, read a book cover to cover, iron some fabric and lay out a quilt batt on the living room floor to relax (it gets all wadded up in the bags they sell it in - I will most likely have to press portions of it, but for now I'm fooling myself into thinking the wrinkles will fall out on their own). The head cold that has been lurking is still hovering around the edges, held at bay by extra rest and a bit of Coricidin.

The next three weekends are fairly busy. I may be meeting a quilt friend from Iowa in Mazomanie, a little city just west of Madison, Wisconsin, next Saturday. She is coming to town to babysit her grands. We've met out there once before, and if we can arrange it, this will be a treat. The following weekend I'm having lunch at my aunt's. The next, already the first full weekend in February, is a mini women's retreat at church (I really, really like "retreats" that allow me to sleep in my own bed!).

This weekend I also said goodbye to a dear friend, who is moving with her hubby and daughters to a camp in the Poconos in Pennsylvania. Her husband took a position as the Director of Urban Ministries at the camp, responsible for hiring the counselors and recruiting campers from neighboring cities, including Philadelphia and New York. His education is in youth ministry, and he's done inner city ministry in New Orleans in the past. The camp is gorgeous, and they will be living in a great house on the camp grounds. It's an incredible answer to sustained prayers.

I'd intended to get to bed early-ish tonight, which means I need to wander than direction about now.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Powered down

It's been a tired, draggy sort of week. A head cold lurks nearby, close enough to block my sinuses just a bit and sap my energy, but not quite so bad it needs full-on cold remedy action. Getting enough sleep always helps me to recover from these sorts of things. Like a wounded animal, I go to ground when I don't feel well, sleeping ten hours a night and napping most of the day. I am most definitely a believer in the restorative power of sleep.

Accordingly, I managed to get to bed minutes after eight o'clock last night, snuggling in, knowing I'd gained an hour or more extra shut-eye to help get me through to the three day weekend, when I could sleep to my hearts content.

Two hours later, I woke up abruptly. Something was wrong.

No hum of the refrigerator. No muted roar of the furnace. No pattern of mini-blind slats on the ceiling.

The power had gone out.

During the twenty years I lived at the old flat, I can count on one hand the number of times the power went out. All of those times, with one exception, were during severe thunderstorms (the last was due to an adventurous squirrel checking out a transformer). This is the third outage at the condo, all three coming in totally clear weather.

Did the neighbors call it in or not? Not wanting to assume, I groped my way down the hall, through the loft, down the stairs, through the living room and to the dining room to get the phone. Reversed the process, then pulled up We Energies on the smart phone. They have a wonderful on-line reporting tool, and a quick look and call to their automated service informed me that they did indeed know about the outage, and expected to have it fixed within an hour and a half.

That's a relief; while I know where the bypass is on the garage door, I highly doubt I'd be able to lift the door up on my own. Underground parking is no advantage when the power goes out.

Naturally, I didn't fall back asleep easily. Usually, I wake up on my own about ten minutes before the alarm is set. Today, the alarm rang for more than a minute while I fumbled to find it. I have a feeling it is going to be a long, foggy day.

At least is is a long weekend. Lots of time to nap and recover. This is the first year in a long time that I didn't come down with a raging cold just before the Christmas break. I'd like to stay reasonably healthy this winter, if at all possible. Hot soup, lots of naps, not doing much - a quiet weekend end and a bit of self care should keep this cold at bay. Hopefully.

Obviously, the power came back on. I think there are only four clocks to reset (my clock radio has a battery back up) - stove, coffeemaker and the the two timers I use on the living room lamps. Everything else resets itself.

I wish I had a reset button.

Friday, January 09, 2015

Another trip around the sun

It's official: as of 11 p.m. last night, I'm a year older.

It always sneaks up on me, perhaps because it is so close to the holiday. Even though it's two weeks removed from Christmas, I would still occasionally get birthday gifts along with Christmas gifts. I hated that.

Just what did I do for the momentous day? Went to work, drove home in a nasty snowstorm, ate leftovers for dinner and went to bed early.

Just typing out that sentence made me feel old.

So I'm going to do something I normally despise: extend the celebration, such as it is. I'm declaring this the "birthday weekend", and I'm going to do only things I really, really want to do. Get some extra sleep. Sit and read by the fire for a few hours. Embroider cute owls on some fleece for charity blankets. Make home made pizza. Go to Panera really early (free breakfast sandwich on my Panera card for my birthday!)(which reminds me, where the heck is my free Starbucks drink?). Vacuum the basement.

Yes, vacuum the basement. A friend helped get rid of quite a bit of the cut up cardboard that had been taking up room, so I finally hauled the old Dirt Devil down to the basement to clean up the floor. It doesn't suck too well anymore, but it does enough. While it's unfinished, the previous owners had put down a six by eight indoor/outdoor rug that is still in pretty good shape. The game plan is to do all the clean up by early summer, just a bit at a time, then put in some shelving and a small freezer. So yes, vacuuming the basement is "fun".

The plan for this next year is more reading, more quilting, less stress. Finish more projects, whether it be the basement, the patio or the decorating. At the same time, take pleasure in the process, not just the final result. Enjoy the journey.

Eh, at the rate my mind is wandering, I'll be lucky to remember what those plans are a month from now!

Tuesday, January 06, 2015

Stuff

Getting back into the swing of things here isn't going quite as well as I hoped. So here is a brief brain dump/reminder list to clear out some room for work related items.

- The joy of an early January birthday: Everyone is broke from Christmas and it's nasty cold, so no one wants to go out to celebrate. According to the forecast, it will be minus ten overnight Wednesday to Thursday morning - Thursday would be my birthday. May I please stay home where it is warm instead of dragging out in the cold to work?

-Three plus hours for Chinese food: Short version: internet order didn't go through, though the site said it was confirmed. Called restaurant, placed order over the phone, was told 35 - 40 minutes, but it took over an hour. I don't think I'll be having Chinese food again. Ever.

-Stupid window blind: While I was out Sunday morning, the support cables on one of the blinds on my bedroom window decided they were no longer up to the job. Since I'm having issues getting the existing valance rod to stay on its supports, I've decided to ditch the whole idea of blinds and valance. The blinds will be completely removed, a new, double curtain rod installed with floor length sheers and the newly made valance. It will be less expensive overall than new blinds, and I'm a whiz at installing curtain rods.

-Stupid Home Depot: I'm thinking of painting the downstairs bathroom over MLK weekend, which means at long last putting up a new fixture. The one I love, love, love is no longer available at Home Depot. Instead, I have to go to the fancy lighting store downtown (ok, so "downtown" in this case is five minutes from where I work). Same price, but much, much more tempting things to walk past. I still have to find out if the electrician who owes me a favor will be available to install it.

-Now that we finally have snow, can it melt, please?: We had about an inch and a half overnight, and of course, our snowplowing/clearing company hadn't done anything yet when I left this morning. The media is going nuts about plow counts and salting - you would think they had never seen snow before. Naturally, there were two different serious accidents this morning, as people misjudged the conditions.

-So I remember: Package, batting, clothes, pork chops, baking, weekend list.